Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Even if you don't love the wine, it always has a purpose

So a few days ago, James and I opened a bottle of Hunter Valley Semillion.  Now this is a noted, revered "gem" of the white wine world, hailing from Australia's New South Wales region.  It's unoaked, limey and overly aggressive with acid; nothing like what you would get out of a a Bordeaux semillion (although styles range from dry to sweet, the acidity is toned down with a substantial amount of oak aging).  Although I can appreciate this wine as being technically fantastic, it just wasn't my cup of tea.  I'm no stranger to acidity and an avid sauvignon blanc lover, but this was unbalanced on my palate and just far too aggressive.  I do however, firmly believe that all wines have a purpose in my home, even if not consumed from my Riedel stemware.

Tonight, I was feeling like something light for dinner and opted for some fresh tilapia.  I was walking through the produce section of the supermarket looking for key limes for my marinade and then it hit me... let's skip the lime juice and use what's left of the semillion that's just haning out in my fridge.

Normally when I use a wine in a marinade (which is quite frequently), you can't actually recognize the wine by the time the meal is prepared.  This was an exception to that normality.  One taste of the poached tilapia and it was as clear as taking a sip of the wine on it's own.  The flavors imparted on the fish beautifully to give what could have otherwise been a bland protein the zip that it needed.  Add in some fresh dill, cilantro, spring onions, vine ripened tomatoes and fresh spinach and you have a fresh, delicious entree that celebrates spring and it's amazing ingredients.

Now for a side dish that can stand up to the flavor explosion that tonight's entree is providing.  The winner: Chilled Quinoa Salad with Red Peppers and Mango.  It's a great blend of sweetness and toastiness to compliment the acidity of the fish.  It's a super simple combination white onion, red pepper, fresh mango, sea salt and pepper tossed into some toasted quinoa.  Just make sure that you dry toast the quinoa before you add it to the boiling water/olive oil mixture used to cook it.  This will help bring out a rich, delicious toasty flavor that will carry through to the salad.  The finishing touch to the salad... one of my personal favorite all-purpose ingredients, Penzy's Spices Raspberry Enlightenment.  This "sauce" is absolutely amazing and in my opinion, should be in every kitchen.  Yes, if eaten right out of the jar, it tastes like a sweet, slightly loose textured raspberry jam, but when mixed into savory foods, it has this amazing ability to bring out flavors that you didn't even know where there.  I do use it all the time as a cheese pairing in it's raspberry-licous form, but trust me... try it on a rosemary roasted chicken breast.  You'll be amazed, I promise!

Toasting the quinoa

Diced mango and my secret ingredient... shhhh!

So yes, dinner was delicious.  But let's be honest, what fun is dinner without a fantastic wine pairing.  Tonight's option: Grilos Dao.  Yes, they do make white Dao.  Quick wine education... Dao is a wine region of Portugal that produces 90% red wines from the Tino family of grapes. These are usually big, aggressive reds that pair well with rich, gamey meats.  Tonight's selection was a combination of Encruzado and Cerceal Branco... both acidic white grapes indigenous to Portugal.

Yes, the wine is acidic... not nearly as acidic as the Hunter Valley semillion, but enough so to pair with the fish beautifully.  Think of the acidity levels of a sauvignon blanc, only with peach/apricot notes instead of citrus.  It's an odd wine for the distinctive Old World-style of Portugal, but nonetheless quite delicious and refreshing. I would recommend it with any fresh, light seafood, shellfish in particular.  It's pretty readily available, give it a try!

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